President Karis: Holding extraordinary elections would not change much

President Alar Karis talking to Vikerraadio's Mirko Ojakivi.
President Alar Karis talking to Vikerraadio's Mirko Ojakivi. Source: Raigo Pajula

There is much to ponder over Estonia's current political state of affairs, President Alar Karis says, both in regard to the Riigikogu and the governing coalition. However, holding an off-schedule general election on an extraordinary basis – the first time that would have happened since Estonia restored its independence over 30 years ago – is not the answer, the head of state adds.

Speaking to ERR's Vikerraadio, the head of state addressed the issue of taking sides in politics, when questioned on it by presenter Mirko Ojakivi.

"Of course I'm going to take sides. The side of the Constitution alone," he said.

"This is the basis for the president's activity, and this is how I intend to continue."

"However, the president is also an individual who can express their opinion, fearlessly. That is my position, it was before, and I have not since changed my position."

As for statement that if he were in Kaja Kallas's shoes, he would have stepped down at the time the "eastern transport scandal," as it is referred to by the Estonian media, broke, back in August, the head of state said that, again, his position had not changed.

"I think it makes no sense to drag this topic out, to keep it front and center all the time," the head of state continued.

The headlines in late August and early September were dominated by news that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' spouse, Arvo Hallik, had a significant stake in an Estonian company which provided transport services, via truck, for another Estonian company exporting manufactured items to Russia.

The president went on to tell Vikerraadio that the declining prestige, in the eyes of the populace, of both legislature and executive had come as little surprise to him.

"This says that, so far as the population goes, political culture is the main influence on matters of trust. We can see what has happened. When people see that the level of trust is not what it used to be, they will express that in the [opinion] polls. /.../ That the [trustworthiness] percentage is so low is not a good thing, as the state must have leaders who can have confidence placed in them, that their decisions are reliable.

"However, only the Riigikogu itself can raise this trustworthiness; no one else can do so for them," he went on.

Extraordinary elections are not either a must-have or a must-not-have, the head of state said; more to the point, the rationale for holding off-schedule elections must be sound, he said.

"It's not the case that, since I don't like something in the country today, or I don't like certain politicians, then along should come the president to call extraordinary elections. That's not how this works. There must be a valid reason for doing so, and these are also enshrined in legislation and the Constitution in any case."

In any event, he added, extraordinary elections at this juncture would not change much.

"Certain confrontations will still remain, but ultimately, we will be in the same situation as we are now. Instead, we are trying to follow a political line that will bring us out of the political situation we are currently in."

Those who wish to filibuster at parliament could continue to do so, extraordinary eletions notwithstanding, the president said, while the number of represented political parties, currently six, would likely remain unchanged too.

"The ideal situation is a parliament where the opposition also has its say, and is listened to from time to time, and not ridden roughshod over. A working atmosphere, in other words," Karis added.

A recent Norstat survey found 51 percent of respondents wanting extraordinary elections to go ahead.

EKRE leader Martin Helme has called for this very move, and has stated that this is his party's main goal, when it filibusters every coalition piece of legislation, even if that means throwing the baby out with the bathwater with legislation which judged by its own lights, the party would find acceptable.

The president was reluctant to comment on what Helme might be thinking and, consequently, how EKRE's plan might pn out.

He did express a hope that the state budget bill, which passed its first reading (of three) earlier this week, albeit at a late-night session, would not be drawn out in its processing through to March – at which point, constitutionally speaking, there would be grounds for extraordinary elections.

Karis also noted that in any case his office looks at the constitutionality of the state budget bill, as with all legislation, before signing it into assent – returning it to the Riigikogu if there are reasons for doubting that constitutionality.

He also said that coalition politicians might want to rethink their claims that the state budget bill has no connection with any vote of confidence in the government, given the centrality of that bill and its ensuing legislation.

"This is actually the one and only law that could be linked to confidence, if the need arises, of course," the president added


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming.

Source: Vikerradio, interviewer Mirko Ojakivi

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